The Library of the National Gallery of Canada houses the most extensive collection of visual arts literature in Canada. Canadiana are collected comprehensively; other notable strengths are the history of the Western tradition from the late Middle Ages to the present, with particular emphasis on painting, sculpture and the graphic arts of Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States, and the history and technology of photography.

The collections include 246,000 books, exhibition catalogues and bound periodicals, 1,100 current periodical subscriptions, 54,000 auction catalogues, 95,000 microforms, 76,000 documentation files, 362,000 study photographs, 203,000 slides and 900 linear meters of institutional archives and private papers. Among the library’s special collections are Artists’ books and multiples, including the Art Metropole collection.

General Idea. AIDS, 1987.
General Idea. AIDS, 1987.
Library and Archives,
NGC. Art Metropole Collection.
Gift of Jay A. Smith,
Toronto, 1999

Art Metropole is an artist run-centre founded in 1974 by General Idea (1968-1994). One of the first artist-run centres in Canada, Art Metropole is part of the international network of parallel galleries committed to conceptual art. Art Metropole's early commitment to collecting, cataloguing and preserving the artistic production and documentary evidence of the conceptual art movement was unique in the alternative gallery community which developed in Canada in the 1970s. Material was received by exchange, donation and purchase, in non-traditional, multi-media formats (artists' books, multiples, video and audio works, mail art, posters, postcards and stamps ), through the new lines of communication established outside the standard commercial and institutional vehicles of exhibition and distribution. The collection includes, as well, exhibition catalogues and periodicals (from both mainstream and alternative sources), printed ephemera and archival materials, and trade publications on the avant-garde. From its inception Art Metropole viewed as central to its activities this role as collector and custodian. The geographical scope of the collection is international, with an understandably fuller representation of Canadian material. Emphasis was placed on Fluxus and conceptual art. In 1996, Art Metropole ceased its collecting activities in order to focus on its exhibition, publication, and distribution programs. In 1999, the art work, documentation and archival collections collected and preserved by Art Metropole were donated to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives by Mr. Jay A. Smith of Toronto, Ontario.  Further information about the Art Metropole collection is available from the Library & Archives website: The Art Metropole Collection database contains 12,611 records for individual items, such as artists' books, multiples and posters, exhibition catalogues, etc., as well as analytics for individual artists represented in group exhibitions, and index entries for anthologies and artists' periodicals.

WIELAND, Joyce:  True Patriot Love. maquette.
True Patriot Love. maquette.
p. 73r, 1971. NGC/MBAC - Archives
NGC/MBAC - 380 Sussex,
Library and Archives.
Library Reading Room, 2008.
NGC/MBAC - Library/Bibliothèque

In addition to the Art Metropole Collection of artists’ books and multiples,  the Library’s collection of artists’ books and multiples numbers over 2,000 items. Records for these items are available in the Library and Archives catalogue: <>.  In light of the importance of the Art Metropole Collection donation to the National Gallery, a new collection development policy has been developed by Library staff for the acquisition of Canadian and international artists' books and multiples. Egalitarian and utilitarian in nature, the book as art enables artists to make their “theoretical” work tangible, portable and available simultaneously to many people in various places. It is art using print technologies and allows dissemination of ideas as the art form rather than the physicality of the unique object bound by time and place.  In most cases, the artist’s book is defined by the fact that the artist has produced the entire volume with little or no input from any other source.  The artist book is not the bearer but the medium of the artistic message.  Emphasis is placed upon work which reflects the strengths of the Art Metropole Collection, work by Canadian artists, and work by international artists of interest to the collecting of contemporary and media arts at the National Gallery of Canada.

Finally, there is a significant body of material in archival fonds (e.g. the General Idea fonds, David Buchan fonds, Ray Johnson mail art, and Art Metropole fonds,) for which finding aids have been prepared and are listed in the National Gallery of Canada Archives database at <>  Finding aids vary in the level of detail they provide: some describe the records at a fonds or collection level only, while others describe records at a series, file, or item level.

Library and Archives. Special Collections room housing the Art Metropole Collection
Library and Archives.
Special Collections room housing
the Art Metropole Collection, 2006.
NGC/MBAC - Library/Bibliothèque
Library and Archives. Special Collections room housing the Art Metropole Collection
Library and Archives. Special Collections room housing the Art Metropole Collection, 2006. NGC/MBAC - Library/Bibliothèque

The Library is open to the public Wednesday to Friday 10 am to 4:45 pm. During academic terms, open Thursdays until 5:45 pm.  Closed statutory holidays. Archives, Documentation and Visual Resources collections are open by appointment only.  

Peter Trepanier, Head
Reader Services, Library
National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Drive
P.O. Box 427, Station A
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 9N4
Telephone: (613) 998-8949
Fax: (613) 990-9818
E-mail: erefel(at)
Online catalogue:

Library materials are for circulation in the Reading Room only and may not be borrowed.
Inquiries regarding loans for exhibition purposes should be addressed to the Chief,  Library and Archives.